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Developing downtown Omaha, challenges and opportunities

Posted: 4:24 PM, Mar 23, 2018
Updated: 2018-03-23 22:36:47Z

It's not hard to see a lot of construction going on in downtown Omaha.

The Capitol District is almost completely done and there's many other proposed developments in the works. 

But Tuesday's announcement from developer Tetrad was a set back for the plot of land on 17th and Capitol. 

"The civic auditorium site is back on the market again and somebody will develop it," said Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert. 

Former Omaha Planning Director Marty Shukert wasn't surprised the project didn't work out, "Large office buildings, large-scale developments or headquarter campuses don't grow on trees, they're very difficult to land."

White Lotus Group CEO Arun Agarwal said every single site and location is unique for the developer as plots are different in an urban core compared to the suburbs. 

"We look at each site as a question, what should it be, what could it be, what's financially possible, what's physically possible," said Agarwal. 

Some of White Lotus Group's tenants are in the tech sector and they prefer to be in the hustle and bustle of downtown life, "They want the amenties, they want the restaurants, they want the bars, they want the nightlife, they are more mobile and far more mobile so they are living in this urban core and that just seems to appeal."

Transportation advocated like Mode Shift Omaha call for more connectivity from the type of buildings that are constructed to how people get from place to place.

"Maybe sometimes instead of focuing on the entire plot as one giant development maybe split it up reconnect some of the streets and make it more connected," said Vice Chair of Mode Shift Omaha Sarah Johnson. 

As these projects are proposed and developed, some in the community would like to see more public input on what happens, "Citizens are being involved in the process too late in the game," said community activist Brian Smith. 

While Stothert said she wants a mixed-use building on the Civic Auditorium spot, Shukert stresses the importance of urban housing.

"Now what we need are families, places for kids in and around downtown and I think the civic auditorium site lends itself to that kind of project," said Shukert. 

Earlier in the week, Stothert said she was contacted from a developer interested in the site, and hinted there may be renewed interest in the old Union Pacific headquarters at 14th and Dodge.